As sweet-natured and unsure as its heroine, “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!” is a nice but inconsequential romancer that superficially addresses celebrity worship as a young West Virginia gal snags an evening with her favorite movie star. A warm embrace of broadly but humanely sketched characters plus some scrappy casting of rising young stars led by an incandescent Kate Bosworth help overcome the half-realized comedic situations. Date movie will bring young couples in out of the January chill for strong returns, followed by sweet times in ancillary.
With this follow-up to his first feature, “Legally Blonde,” director Robert Luketic is starting to corner the market on comedies centered on lovable if ditzy blond beauties. While Bosworth’s Rosalee Futch, a naive, fetching supermarket clerk momentarily seduced by Hollywood, isn’t the memorable creation summoned by Reese Witherspoon, she refreshingly recalls a more innocent style of romantic comedy recently shoved to the sidelines by the gross-out showboaters. And for fans of Bosworth’s charismatic surfer chick in “Blue Crush,” her softer side here reveals a young thesp with more than one dimension.
Rosalee and her best pals Pete (Topher Grace) and Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) watch an imagined Hollywood romance titled “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and starring No. 1 heartthrob Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel). The gals are in tears and Pete checking his watch. Assumption that Hamilton is as nice off screen as on is abruptly contradicted by a cut to Tad indulging in a scandalous night that becomes tabloid fodder.
Tad’s agent and manager, both who are named Richard Levy (distinguished in credits as Levy the Driven, played by Nathan Lane, and Levy the Shameless, played by Sean Hayes), nervously sense the need for their top client to regain his clean-boy image. They come up with a contest whose prize is a trip to Los Angeles and an evening with Tad.
Meanwhile at the Piggly Wiggly in the West Virginia town of Fraziers Bottom, Rosalee works with Cathy at checkout; Pete impresses as manager but can’t manage to tell Rosalee he loves her.
Both girls enter the contest for a date with Hamilton and Rosalee wins. Her arrival at the movie capital bears as little resemblance to the actual L.A. as pic’s depiction of West Virginia bears to the actual state, and the movie’s overall phony sense of place (lensing was entirely, and all too obviously, in Southern California) depletes the comic energy and contradicts story’s extolling of genuine feeling over false fronts.
The date itself is a gently depicted meeting of a hunk who’s in love with his own self-image and a distinctly non-city woman who’s a bit tongue-tied but has a sharp built-in b.s. meter. Rosalee clearly leaves an impression on Tad, who later impulsively shows up at the Piggly Wiggly to continue things with Rosalee.
Pic is at its wobbliest in the midsection which shifts attention to Pete and his increasingly raging heart. Bosworth’s Rosalee moves offscreen in favor of Pete’s crisis, and Victor Levin’s script struggles over the dramatic humps until a third act in which Grace’s irony-tinged perf as Pete begins to deliver some effective emotional notes.
With immense good looks and the right, polished airheadedness, Duhamel is an inspired choice in his feature debut as a B.O. superstar. Grace doesn’t overplay Pete’s contrast to Tad’s Olympian star appeal, and his line deliveries are superbly timed, even if the whole characterization verges on becoming terminally forced.
As Bosworth’s sidekick, Goodwin inserts some daffy touches, although the fact that her Cathy also adores Tad suggests a seemingly natural clash with Rosalee that’s never realized.
Lane and Hayes leave only a faint comic impression as symbols of Hollywood cynicism, while Gary Cole as Rosalee’s dad and Kathryn Hahn as the local, love-wise barkeep steal their respective scenes.
The bright and cheery look that distinguished Luketic’s “Legally Blonde” seems misapplied in this country/city tale, especially combined with the continuously inauthentic settings.
Pic stands as yet another puzzling example of how Hollywood regularly fails to depict itself accurately, while bending over backward to avoid hick cliches. Edward Shearmur’s underscore is the most subtle in a while for a youth-oriented comedy.